Featured Book: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

Tufts University philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett argues that “society must overcome its ‘spell’ against studying religion as a natural, evolutionary occurrence,” Kirkus Reviews says of this book. The atheist author, “seeks to expose religion to the systematic tools of modern science,” and “presents material from various researchers regarding how religion has evolved in human cultures.” Not surprisingly, Scientific American fancied it as “a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological, and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond, who found the work to be “crystal-clear [and] constantly engaging,” mentions that, “For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why, and how, it has shaped so many lives so strongly. …Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel Dennett charts religion’s evolution from ‘wild’ folk belief to ‘domesticated’ dogma….”

In this sampling, Dennett maintains that the “three favourite purposes or raisons d’être for religion are (1) to comfort us in our suffering, and allay our fear of death, (2) to explain things we cannot otherwise explain, and (3) to encourage group cooperation in the face of trials and enemies.”

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett
Penguin Books, 2006